Anatomy of a Chicken Nugget

From Experience Life

Ever wonder what goes into making a chicken nugget? And ever wonder why they’re so easy to eat (and eat and eat)? Here’s more than you probably wanted to know:

  • BITE-SIZE: Before breading, the gelatinous meat product is squeezed into a casing and cooked. After it cools, the casing is sliced into uniform nugget-sized discs, making them that much easier to pop into your mouth (no silverware required — and hey, those nuggets are so small, it’s like you’re hardly eating anything, right?).
  • “PRECHEWED” MEAT: Assorted pieces of chicken meat are finely chopped to free myofibrillar proteins that act as “glue” to bind the bits of meat together. Texture-enhancing binders (such as breading or powdered egg white) are added to help create a “gelling” effect that gives the nuggets shape. Flavors, natural and artificial, are mixed in. So are ingredients that hold in moisture, such as sodium phosphate, soy protein concentrate and autolyzed yeast extract. The net effect? A boneless, prechewed quality that produces a smooth and even bolus in your mouth and that invites overeating.
  • WHITE-ISH MEAT: It could be white meat — or it could be dark meat (about a third of the cost of white meat) that has been whitened with the use of whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Although dark meat is often more flavorful, white meat apparently looks more uniform and more appealing to American eyes. As one industry document puts it, “American consumers have expressed a strong preference for poultry white meat over dark meat due to color. Turning dark meat into white could open new markets and revenue sources.”
  • CRUNCH FACTOR: The breading on a chicken nugget is mostly flour (but can also contain gums, starches, sugars and chemically derived flavors). It adds inexpensive heft to the nugget (up to 30 percent of its weight) and provides a material for the nugget’s crispy outside layer — a key factor in the sensory experience. The breading also provides an appealing, uniform color (some manufacturers add a caramel coloring agent to the nugget to enhance the golden, fried look) and toasty aroma. Finally, the breading provides a moisture barrier to prevent water loss, creating a moister interior that contributes to a satisfying mouthfeel.
  • FRIED TO A CRISP: The chicken nugget is dunked in a vat of hot, liquid fat (most often, a cheap vegetable oil such as soybean, sunflower or safflower oil — it depends on market price and availability), which causes the protein to denaturalize and the starch in the breading to become more gel-like. A crust forms on the nugget’s outer layer. During deep-frying, much of the nugget’s original water content is replaced with oil.
  • SWEET SAUCE: Most of the sauces served with chicken nuggets (barbecue, sweet and sour, etc.) have an array of added sugars in them. Others, like ranch and blue-cheese dressings, contain creamy dairy ingredients rich in natural sugars. This helps to create the fat-sugar-salt trio that renders so many processed foods irresistible. Although the ingredients of one popular restaurant chain’s ginger-citrus sauce sound relatively ordinary (sugar, hoisin sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, chili paste, modified food starch and orange juice concentrate), sugar and salt dominate. The dipping action produces new sensory elements — mixing cool with hot, crispy with creamy, savory with sweet, mellow with spicy, and so on.

Related Links:
Fake Meat – Good Idea?
The Secret Life of Beef
10 Delicious Vegetarian Recipes

74 comments

Terry V.
Terry V.2 years ago

noted

KAREN G.
Karen G.2 years ago

Eww! I don`t eat meat

Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M.2 years ago

chicken nuggets arent good for you nor are they healthy. Full of fat, a pin prick of meat if that and all the rest I dont know but I know its fattening and unhealthy and its not my choice of junk food to eat.

Geoff Price
Past Member 3 years ago

Who would take the blame for writing that

Jane Mckenzie
Jane Mckenzie3 years ago

some good and some bad - I don't think the squashing and unpleasant names should put people off. If we kill for food we should use every last bit out of respect for the life we have taken.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 3 years ago

Noted. Thanks.

Heidi Aubrey
Heidi Aubrey3 years ago

Who eat "nuggets" anyway except tweens and teens and possibly young adults who have been hooked on fast food?

Dale Overall

Interesting article. For those shocked by the processed food aspect-make it at home yourself-cooking from scratch is healthier than the processed version-takes time but people cooked from scratch since the dawn of time.

Do not like being lectured to by vegans believing that their truth is the Only Truth and the rest of us are beasties. If Nature had been vegan approved then she would have designed humans and other species to subsist solely on inorganic matter such as rocks instead of feeding on the death of other living organisms be it poultry, meat, fruit and veggies etc.

I like chicken, meat and will continue to eat it along with eggs, honey, spinach--sorry I cut a plant up and ate it instead of letting it grow and seed for the next year sacrificing the life cycle of these never to be plants. Meanwhile, Pitcher plants are nasty beasties for feeding on living insects.

Even if one is vegan, the land fill is chock full of unused lettuce, cabbage and other foods that were not eaten in time leaving greenhouse gases for more global warming. GMOs gobble up so much of the fruit/vegetable agri business farms and then there the chemicals plus other detrimental ramifications for mankind. GMO seeds replacing heritage seeds leaving many tasteless tomatoes and red peppers. Unless one is lucky to obtain purely organic farmed veggies and fruits with no chemicals used--not every person has or can afford that option.

I try and balance my diet, some days with no poultry as othe

Dale Overall

Continued from below as Care2 does not have a twitter like counter telling us when our comments will be cut off...

I try and balance my diet, some days with no poultry/meat as rice-(not white please)! is tasty - so many foods to be tried from many sources. Poultry served in a portion the size of a deck of cards is healthier.

When Mother Nature comes up with a plan where I can eat pate of rock and stone, well perhaps I will give up chicken, fish and meat. Until then, live with the choice you have made and learn to live with the fact everyone is different with their own choices.

Processed foods are convenience foods and are inherently unhealthy be it chicken, meat or overly processed vegan burgers (some ingredients are scarey depending on the label one reads and the source).

J.L. A.
JL A.4 years ago

good to know